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Trauma’s Role In Addiction

Posted on 12/26/19: Addiction Treatment

We’ve likely all experienced trauma to some degree in our lives. But the effects manifest in a variety of ways. Some of us are lucky, and have the resources and capabilities to overcome these painful experiences through therapy, time, strong support systems, etc, without many negative repercussions. However, depending on the severity of the trauma and/or a person’s personal circumstances, these experiences can leave a person vulnerable to developing long-term psychological issues which may result in addiction. But how exactly does trauma do this? How can it be avoided? And once one develops an addiction due to trauma they’ve experienced, how can they heal? We will discuss the answers to all of these questions and more in the following article about trauma’s role in addiction and how it can be helped.

What is trauma?

What exactly classifies something as trauma? Trauma is the response to an event in one’s life that results in feelings of depression, helplessness, distress, and any number of negative emotions.

It is impossible to say whether or not something that has happened to you could be considered trauma, by anyone other than yourself of course. Sometimes a person can witness something that we would definitely consider to be a severely traumatic occurrence, and still come out of it without developing any further issues that negatively impact their life. However, on the other hand, there is no severity scale out there that dictates what people should and shouldn’t find traumatic. As long as their brains register an occurrence as trauma, the person can develop mental health issues because of it. That said, the occurrences that are most often considered to be traumatic include:

  • serious accidents
  • physical or sexual assault
  • abuse, including childhood or domestic abuse
  • severe health problems
  • childbirth experiences, such as experiencing a miscarriage 
  • war and combat
  • torture

Know, however, that this is not a comprehensive list. Just because you haven’t experienced any of the things listed above, this doesn’t mean that you did not experience trauma. Also know that on the opposite hand, even if you have experienced any or some of the above, it doesn’t mean you must have some sort of problem. 

How do people respond to trauma?

As we mentioned earlier, people respond to trauma in a number of ways. Here are some of the common symptoms of having had experienced traumatic events:


  • sadness
  • anger
  • denial
  • shame
  • fear
  • insomnia & sleeping difficulties
  • suffering relationships
  • emotional outbursts


  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • altered sleep patterns
  • changes in appetite
  • headaches
  • stomach problems


  • PTSD
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • dissociative disorder
  • substance abuse problems

Why trauma can lead to substance abuse disorder and addiction

Because of the aforementioned effects of trauma, it can be extremely difficult for people who have experienced it in some form to cope with the negative emotions and stress associated with it. This is where substance abuse comes in. 

It has been reported that 90 percent of individuals in a behavioral healthcare setting have experienced trauma. As you can assume based on the high number, trauma is potent. This is because it often leads to high levels of stress. As we know, stress is one of the biggest contributing factors to developing an addiction. Drugs, alcohol, certain foods, and activities have the same effect of stimulating the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, causing us to experience a pleasurable response. The brain remembers the good feeling that the substance or activity caused, and it will instill a desire in you to continue seeking out whatever caused the response. These pleasurable experiences are especially desired when the person is also experiencing stress brought on by trauma, as the dopamine provides an escape from the negative feelings. Another important factor in whether or not a person develops an addiction due to trauma is if they have healthy coping skills. A lack of healthy coping skills is a big predictor of someone turning to drugs, alcohol, or other damaging methods of managing painful emotions.

Drug withdrawal symptoms can worsen symptoms and results of trauma, making it extremely difficult to not only stop using the drug but also to heal from the trauma itself. This is why if you or a loved one are struggling with ill effects from it and addiction, it is crucial to seek help as quickly as possible so that you can begin the process of healing as soon as possible. 

Treatment Options for Trauma & Substance Abuse

When trauma and addiction are present, it is essential to use a holistic approach and treat the two simultaneously. Not only is the interplay between trauma and addiction complex, but each individual will have different symptoms and experiences which add to the layers of complexity with treatment. If the dependence on the drug is significant, detoxing is usually the first step.  

Medical detox is the best and most optimal plan of action for kickstarting treatment. During medical detox, an individual is admitted to a specialized addiction treatment facility where they can stay for as long as it takes for them to get the drug out of their system. These facilities have 24/7 access to knowledgeable, trained medical professionals and mental health counselors who are there for you whenever you need them. You will be able to heal in a secure, safe, and comfortable environment. 

In order to better manage stress, cope with potential triggers, enhance one’s self-esteem, and combat negative thoughts, behavioral therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be used. In addition, Exposure Therapy is useful in helping those with PTSD confront their fears and traumas head-on. In addition, medications, when used in conjunction with behavioral therapy techniques, can help manage severe symptoms so that a person can enjoy their daily life. 

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, contact Sober Living of AZ now to get the help you need. Sober Living offers an acclaimed recovery environment that merges upscale and luxury accommodations with affordability, clinical expertise and an unwavering commitment to patient care and aftercare. Call us now at 602-737-2458.

Content for Scottsdale Recovery Center and Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers created by Cohn Media, LLC. Passionate and creative writing and broadcasting, covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.

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